Protests Erupt in South Korea Over Spy Agency's Electioneering

Protests have continued for several weeks in South Korea against revelations that the country's intelligence agency allegedly meddled in December's presidential election by undertaking an anonymous online attack campaign against opposition parties.

Nine agents from the National Intelligence Service (NIS) created hundreds of Internet IDs and wrote more than 5,000 posts on the Internet and used some of them to attack opposition parties and their candidates ahead of South Korea’s presidential election last December.

The Korea Center for Investigative Journalism (or NewsTapa) shared CSV files [ko] containing raw data and their analysis revealing that 658 Twitter accounts have been used by the NIS. Among 237,000 tweets published by the accounts, more than 25 percent of them were about domestic politics and the presidential election. Most accounts were deleted right after the NIS case made headlines around December 11, 2012 and some remaining ones were removed around March 2013 when investigative reports unearthed more details about the case.

While the NIS claims it was a part of psychological warfare campaign against North Korea with the purpose of blocking communist propaganda that spawns anti-government sentiment, protesters denounce it as a threat to democracy and a despicable act that interferes with the election.

Students at 17 major universities have officially denounced [ko] the Intelligence Service as a threat to democracy. Spearheaded by college students, protests erupted in various cities with people condemning not only the agency, but also the police and the ruling party for trying to whitewash the case.

(photos) Video clips of protests in major cities by various groups have been shared online. In this video by Vimeo user ground20, a group of college students protest in Seoul before clashing with the police.

A peaceful candlelight vigil was held in Seoul. This video was uploaded by famous citizen journalist Media Mongu to his YouTube channel.

Net users lashed out at the case, calling it a despicable act that shakes the nation to its foundation, such as the following tweet:

@bbjgo: 국정원의 조직적 선거개입은 민주주의에 대한 명백한 테러입니다[…] 국정원에 대해 헌법정신에 따른 즉각적이고 분명한 조치로 국기를 바로해야겠습니다.

@bbjgo: The state intelligence agency's systematic interference in a presidential election is an act of terror against democracy. We need to take immediate, stern action.

Although police investigation into the case dragged on for about two months, net users found it unsatisfactory as it failed to clarify how the agency’s operation affected the presidential election and Won Sei-hoon, the former director of the intelligence agency, escaped arrest.

None of the nine agents who executed the operation have been punished for breaking the national election law, which prohibits government officials from influencing elections. Prominent political blogger Impeter criticized [ko] the incompleteness of the investigation and the ruling party’s attempt to whitewash the case.

국정원은 종북세력 감시와 대북 업무차원에서 인터넷을 모니터링했다고 주장하지만, 이것은 전혀 근거가 없는 변명에 불과합니다. 특히 다음 아고라에서 보여준 국정원의 지독함은 상상을 초월할 정도였습니다. […] 도대체 국정원이 얼마나 많은 인터넷 공간에서 범죄를 저질렀는지는 정확히 판명되지 않고 있습니다. 계속해서 범죄 행위가 발견되지만, 그만큼 국정원도 발 빠르게 움직여 그들의 증거를 계속 삭제하고 증거 인멸을 꾀하고 있습니다 […] 새누리당은 경찰과 결탁하여 범죄 사실을 은폐했으며, 경찰 수사 발표를 철저히 자신들에게 유리한 시간에 터트리도록 조작했습니다. 또한 ‘여성 인권'을 강조하며 오히려 문재인 후보의 도덕성을 떨어뜨리는 수법을 자행했습니다. 조중동과 종편은 연일 경찰의 수사 발표와 새누리당의 여성 인권 논리를 계속해서 내보냄으로 국민을 세뇌시켰으며[…]

The NIS claims that they have merely monitored the online space as a part of their anti-North Korea campaign and surveillance against pro-North Korean groups, but it is a totally groundless excuse. The intensity/thoroughness of NIS’s operation in the Daum Agora site is beyond one’s imagination. To what extent did NIS commit this crime in the online space is impossible to measure [due to its vast volume]. More facts about their crimes are coming out, but NIS is reacting fast in deleting and destroying evidence. The ruling Saenuri party, who colluded with the police in covering up the crime, manipulated the timing of the police investigation report so the result would come out at the moment they prefer. Moreover, using [the fact that the secret agent was a woman] and ‘women’s rights’ rhetoric, they used this case to attack [the opposite candidate] Moon Jae-in in a way of questioning his morality. The Cho-Joong-Dong [three biggest newspapers in the country] and their child TV stations have tried to brainwash people by repeatedly reporting Saenuri’s ‘women’s rights’ logic together with the police investigation result […]

It was not only liberal groups and college students who were enraged by the case. A known conservative and former professor at the National Police university, Pyo Chang-won, filed petitions against the NIS (photo). The first round of his petition gathered more than 100,000 signatures online and the second round [ko] surpassed 200,000 signatures. A part of the second petition reads [ko]:

[수사결과에 나타난] 증거들은 국정원이 바로 ‘한국형 매카시즘’을 일으켰다는 사실을 확인해주고 있습니다. 야당과 야당 의원들, 시민단체나 노동조합, 교사단체, 정부에 비판적인 지식인이나 국민들 모두를 ‘종북’으로 매도하고 이를 뒷받침하는 허위 사실과 논리들을 무차별적으로 인터넷에 살포했습니다. 그 허위사실과 논리들은 다시 극우 논객들과 일베 등 극우적 사이트 회원들을 통해 확대 재생산되어 인터넷을 뒤덮었습니다. 국정원이 말한 ‘사이버 심리전’입니다.[…] 자신의 투표권이 유린되었다고 분노한 국민도 많지만, 여전히 국정원의 “종북 대응을 위해 필요한 활동이었다”라는 변명을 믿고싶어하는 국민 역시 많습니다. 양측 모두 “진실과 정의”를 원합니다.

Evidence [found by the police investigation] demonstrate that the NIS has incited the Korean version of McCarthyism; The opposition party, opposition party members, civic groups, labor unions, teachers unions, intellectuals and any people critical of the government — they have been labeled as Jongpuk [pro-North Korea or North Korean sympathizers]. To build their Jongpuk theory, the NIS has conjured up false evidence and used twisted logic and distributed their claims widely online. Their theories have been strengthened and magnified by extreme right wing groups and sites, such as the Ilbe site. This is what the NIS claimed as a ‘psychological warfare’ [against North Korea] […] While some express anger that this case infringed upon their voting rights, some still want to believe the agency’s excuse that it was a necessary action against pro-North Korea groups. Both, however, want the same thing — truth and justice.


Join the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.